Breaking open the bubbles

If you think about it, the word "bubble", while pleasingly onomatopoeic and suggestive of frolicking on freshly cut summer lawns while blowing air into a translucent pocket, carries a few negative connotations.

When a "bubble bursts", it is not usually a good thing. "Living in a bubble" is generally seen as an unenviable position. If things "bubble over" or "bubble up", we are sometimes talking fisticuffs or explosions of emotion. "Bubble gum" might still be a highly prized feature of the candy store, but it is the bane of a caretaker’s life. And, of course, there is the rather black opening verse of that annoying song, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, which refers to bubbles flying high, nearly reaching the sky then "like my dreams they fade and die". Charming.

But to picture a bubble in the coming weeks and months is perhaps to revisit that childhood image of freedom and glee. It is, for the adults, time to break out the bubbly.

The long-awaiting "transtasman bubble" is to become a reality on April 19, when New Zealanders and Australians will be able to travel quarantine-free between the neighbouring nations.

There are some caveats — a traffic-light system has been established to cater for the possibility of a community outbreak of Covid-19, and Western Australia still has mandatory quarantine rules — but it is almost business as normal for travellers.

This is clearly a huge step, on the tail of the vaccination rollout, in the path to a "post-Covid world".

New Zealanders have, in comparison to many other global citizens, been extremely fortunate over the past eight or nine months. Getting on top of Covid has meant many of us have been able to carry on our lives with little real effects from the global pandemic.

Opening travel across the Ditch symbolises so many things. It speaks of normalcy, of freedom, of banishing the lingering memories of the darkest days of lockdown and preparing to get some sun on the Gold Coast.

It is, obviously, a seismic step for the South’s crown jewel of tourism, Queenstown, which has been bleeding for over a year and desperately needs an influx of Australian visitors to get humming again.

But it is also important for places as diverse as Dunedin, Oamaru, Te Anau and others, all of which could also use an injection of tourist cash.

Travel agents, adventure tourism businesses, hospitality, accommodation — sectors everywhere are understandably jubilant at the news.

Remember, though, this is not just about tourism.

How heart-warming to read story after story of families preparing to reunite — sisters finally being able to see each other after a lonely year, a grandmother preparing to snuggle a family’s new arrival, a whanau joyously gathering for that long-awaiting wedding.

We have a special relationship with Australia, and the opening of the borders has highlighted how important an open link is to the nation’s wellbeing.

It comes with some risk — and we got a reminder yesterday when news broke of a border worker being infected. But it is low risk, and managed risk, and it is time to take that risk. Bring on April 19.

AND ANOTHER THING

We join all those across the political spectrum sending best wishes to Labour MP Kiritapu Allan, who has revealed she has been diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer.

She is shaping as one of Labour’s most promising performers, and will be missed while she is getting treatment.

The Minister for Emergency Management’s commitment, toughness and bravery in fronting the potential civil defence emergency following a tsunami on March 5, on the same day she was heading for tests to confirm the diagnosis, have rightly been highlighted.

Ms Allan and whanau now get to focus on her health, and everyone will have their fingers crossed.

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